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Jonathan Ielpi’s turnout clothing on display in the Tribute WTC Visitor Center.
Photo credit: Photo by Charles Werner
If you have not been to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, you are missing one of the most informative ways to learn about the events that occurred on 9/11. The Tribute WTC Visitor Center opened its doors in September 2006 and by 2007, it had already received more than 100,000 visitors. To date, the Tribute Center has hosted more than 2.2 million visitors. In addition to citizens from the United States, people from 130 foreign countries have made the journey to the Tribute Center ,accounting for more than 200,000 visitors.
The Tribute Center is located at the site of the former Liberty Deli at 120 Liberty St., directly across from Ground Zero. In the aftermath of 9/11, the deli became a station where meals were served to rescuers, often by celebrities who came to volunteer and give the tired workers a boost. Later, the deli became a distribution point for equipment like gloves, socks, respirators, eye drops and tools.
The Tribute Center idea was conceived in early 2003 as a place where visitors from around the world could come to pay tribute to the lives lost and to have a better understanding of 9/11. The Tribute Center brings together a culmination of multiple points of view, the unique personal stories of 9/11, photographs and artifacts. In addition to the human toll, multiple points of view provide a deeper sense of the tragedy by encompassing the impacts on the displaced residents, businesses that closed and the outpouring of giving and patriotism that occurred after 9/11. Walking tours of the WTC by volunteers from the 9/11 community transform their personal stories into a meaningful and inspirational experience. In addition, the Tribute Center has collected thousands of photographs from throughout the 9/11 community. The volunteers that shared their personal stories with my group on the walking tour were genuine thought provoking and inspiring. They also explained that telling their story was part of a healing process for them.
Educational programs provide a way to tell the story about 9/11 in a way that demonstrates compassion and encourages children to understand the significance of 9/11. The educational programs are designed to use this historical event to empower children in humanitarian efforts in their home communities.
As I walked through the Tribute Center with Lee Ielpi (a retired member of the FDNY and president of the September 11 Families’ Association), he told me the story about his son Jonathan, who was a member of FDNY Squad 288 and one of the 343 FDNY firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11.
Among the artifacts on display in the Tribute Center are Jonathan’s turnout coat and his leather helmet. Seeing this and knowing more about his personal story was a heart-wrenching moment for me; especially knowing that Lee’s last words to Jonathan as he responded to the WTC were, “Be careful, son.”
Lee Ielpi is one of the most dedicated and respected faces for the Tribute Center and 9/11. He is relentless in his efforts to ensure that “we never forget.” He preaches compassion and encourages our future generations to be tolerant and to understand that religious extremism is not the norm and that it is up to all of us to make a better tomorrow. Lee told me that the greatest moments of his time spent at the Tribute Center are those times when the youth from all over the world embrace the concept of working together to help others and make a difference.
Based on his impressive and decorated career and all of the work following 9/11, I was compelled and honored to appoint Lee as an honorary fire chief for the City of Charlottesville Fire Department on Jan. 25, 2011, in a ceremony at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center.
To learn more and/or to donate, visit the WTC Tribute Center website at http://www.tributewtc.org.